Update: This post has been updated with more information on the location of the cases. Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said none of the cases appear to have been from a single cluster incident.
After weeks of very few new cases of COVID-19, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services today announced that 13 new cases had been identified in Alaska residents.
The cases were identified in most areas of the state with four in Anchorage, two in Homer, one in Kenai, one in Nikiski, three in the Kenai Peninsula Borough and one in the North Slope Borough. The source of the new infections is still under investigation, the state said in an announcement, and tracers will be contacting people who may have been in contact with the individuals.
There have been no additional hospitalizations due to COVID-19 reported.
Today’s count marks one of the highest single-day results since the virus arrived in Alaska, bringing the statewide total to 425 cases. Confirmed cases of COVID-19 for non-residents, such as several fishing industry workers, are not counted toward that total (though there were no new non-resident cases reported today).
The uptick follows weeks of the state’s easing of health measures as elected officials have pushed for a reopening of the economy throughout the state. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has said an increase in cases is expected and that it’s largely up to individuals to limit the spread of the virus. He’s declined to specify what it would take for the state to consider closing businesses again but said that the state’s health care capacity has been vastly improved.
On Thursday, he appeared on conservative guns-right pundit Dana Loesch’s radio show to tout how well Alaska has handled the pandemic.
Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said in a prepared statement the news may be alarming but said that there are other factors that may be at play with the spike.
“I know this increase in cases today may come as a surprise to some, but this is why we continue to closely monitor cases and investigate each one,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer. “Many of the cases came in late yesterday and are still under investigation so it’s too soon to have details about the source of transmission, but other factors such as increases in testing may also play a role.”
According to the announcement, of the new Alaska cases, seven are male and six are female. Two are aged 10-19; one is aged 20-29; three are aged 30-39; two are aged 40-49; four are aged 50-59; and one is aged 60-69.
Though the state has backed away from any strict enforcement of health measures, such as wearing masks in stores, social distancing or limiting group sizes, Zink said they’re still highly recommended.
“Alaskans should take this news as an important reminder that the virus is still with us and that we should not ease up on the actions each of us can take to protect ourselves including: keeping six feet of distance from others, wearing a face covering when out in public, washing our hands frequently, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces at home and work.”
At a legislative hearing on Wednesday, health care officials urged the state to take a more strict approach to enforcing quarantines on people arriving in Alaska. They warned that asymptomatic super spreader incidents demonstrate just how easily and quickly the virus can spread, especially in indoor spaces.